China vs. Texas



The New York Times carried a story yesterday laying out the case that the U.S. is getting its ass kicked by China when it comes to renewable energy development, especially solar.

This is the same China that builds a new coal-fired power plant every two weeks, the same China that has probably surpassed the United States as the world’s leader in greenhouse gas emissions.This is like getting beat by a chainsmoker in a footrace.

Nonetheless, the Chinese government is spending billions to drive up its market share of solar panel sales. The Times reports that:

Shi Zhengrong, the chief executive and founder of China’s biggest solar panel manufacturer, Suntech Power Holdings, said in an interview here that Suntech, to build market share, is selling solar panels on the American market for less than the cost of the materials, assembly and shipping.

This duality – aggressive pursuit of a clean energy sector existing side-by-side with a 19th-century carbon-based industrial economy – is not simply a piece of Chinese exoticism. In fact, it kinda reminds me of Texas.

Here, several new coal-fired power plants are under construction. A big chunk of our economy still floats on fossil fuels. We lead the nation in CO2 emissions. On the other hand, we’ve developed a successful wind energy sector that is still growing at a healthy clip.

But like China our old-school energy sector dwarfs renewables.

China plans to have 20,000MW of solar power by 2020. That sounds like a lot but, as the Times notes, it only works out to about half the capacity of the coal-fired power plants added each year in China.

Likewise, wind energy in Texas is only about nine percent of the energy mix. Coal, nuclear and natural gas make up much of the rest. And don’t forget that the Texas Legislature totally failed this year to do anything to jumpstart an indigenous solar energy sector.

That Austin Energy, considered a national leader in renewables, is commissioing a 30MW solar power plant is considered a big deal. Ironically, the company building that project, Gemini Power, is partnered with Suntech… the Chinese company profiled in the Times story.

How do you say “haha” in Mandarin?

Do you think free access to journalism like this is important? The Texas Observer is known for its fiercely independent, uncompromising work—which we are pleased to provide to the public at no charge in this space. That means we rely on the generosity of our readers who believe that this work is important. You can chip in for as little as 99 cents a month. If you believe in this mission, we need your help.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is the editor of the Observer.

You May Also Like: